Tribalism in USA politics

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

The right-wing has become a tribe. This has been true at least since Newt Gingrich won the congressional elections in 1994, but it has only recently become fashionable to say this out loud. And the New York Times is both unwilling and unable to represent that tribe on its opinion pages:

Here is the scary truth that NYT editors and readers alike resist: US politics today is not a contest of ideas or governing philosophies. We are witnessing a massive revanchist upheaval — against bourgeois morality and standards of conduct, against changing demographics and economies, against assumptions about governance and respect for norms, against the status quo — by a culture that is stagnating even as the country changes around it, which it experiences as a loss of dignity and prestige.

Not everyone involved is driven by tribal resentment, not every Trump voter indulges in misogyny or racism, but every member of the current conservative coalition has decided that those things are acceptable, or at the very least, not disqualifying — less important than lower taxes or immigration crackdowns.

Even if they do not share Trump’s ignorant, hateful impulses, even if they do not endorse his careening, incompetent governance, even if they do not countenance the grotesque corruption of his family and his administration, they support the coalition that enables those things. They are supporting a tribe with a strongman leader, not a set of ideas.

There’s no argument for that, nothing to plausibly fill an editorial page. As I said, the tribalist’s only argument is, “We won.” The only idea is: to the victors the spoils.

When the Times opinion page pretends that conservatism is David Brooks or Bret Stephens when it maintains the comforting illusion that American politics is a contest of ideas, it is not exposing its readers to uncomfortable truths — it is sheltering them.

Do NYT readers — who mostly read mainstream sources, mostly live in cities, mostly are not exposed to right-wing media — understand that the most active voices on the American right today are filled with paranoid rage, hopped up on lies and conspiracy theories, unmoved by reason, and devoted to their total destruction? Do they understand that the values and norms they assume safe and sacrosanct are in fact under heavy siege? Do they know that American democracy is in danger of coming apart?

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